Whether it be the larger class sizes or the many educational opportunities, college can be intimidating for rural students for different reasons. At Texas Tech, efforts are made to ensure these students get a worthwhile education.
As a way to improve retention and engagement among rural students on campus, different departments at Tech work to provide multiple options for rural students to get involved.
The correlation between student engagement and retention of rural students is one factor people may consider when wanting to help rural students get the most out of their time at Tech.
Jade Silva Tovar, senior director of the Tech Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, said the challenges certain rural students face depends on the school districts they attended prior to college. She said being able to provide information about Tech in order for rural students to gain an understanding that college is possible is one way to ease the transition.
“We work to make sure that we’re getting that message out to those students as well as their community and their parents,” she said. “I think some of the other things is how do we make, when students come to campus, college feel not as large?”
Sitting in a lecture with a lot of people is one aspect of the college experience Silva Tovar said can be intimidating to a rural student who more than likely came from a small graduating high school class. She said most rural students need to feel a sense of community.
“It really is to make college that home away from home,” she said. “Some of our rural students are first-(generation) students, so some of the things for them is understanding the college-going process.”
Since some rural areas may not have many college credit opportunities for high school students, Silva Tovar said it is vital for Tech to provide information about how to register for classes and how certain credits could transfer from a local community college.
“You don’t have to come right after high school. You can go to a local community college and transfer in,” she said. “So, there’s different opportunities for students to be successful at Tech.”
Reaching out to high school students living in rural areas may be a necessary step to help transition rural student to Tech.
Olga Achourkina, director of Tech College Connect, said her department works to make connections with high school students who may be interested in Tech.
“College Connect works with the students from K through 12,” she said. “So, not necessarily college students, but we are providing the access points and pathways to connect them with college resources.”
Whether it be allowing high school students to visit the Tech campus or going to rural high schools that cannot afford to travel to Lubbock, Achourkina said there are a variety of services College Connect provides.
“We work with the counselors at the schools, sometimes it is us going to them,” she said. “If they don’t have access to come here to Texas Tech and receive that information, then we will go to them.”
In addition to easing the minds of students deciding where to go to college, Achourkina said the department needs to interact with parents of prospective students.
“Parents are a very important part of this process, so we work with a lot of parents,” she said. “Especially if they are a first-generation or from a rural community, they work a lot, so they don’t have the opportunity to take the student to campus to introduce them.”
Regardless of all the steps needed to help prospective and newly enrolled rural students feel comfortable with attending Tech, there may be other obstacles throughout a rural student’s time on campus.
Engagement on campus is a factor Silva Tovar said is necessary for new students, whether they be from rural areas or not, to be comfortable.
“That’s really important for our students to get engaged right away and find that community of peers that they can interact with and start to build their community here at Texas Tech,” Silva Tovar said.
At Tech, there are a variety of services dedicated to providing the best college experience to students. These services may be beneficial in helping rural students connect with others from different places.
Micheal Gunn, director of the Tech Student Government Association, said Tech Student Affairs informs students about the multiple groups and services at Tech. He said students, especially rural students, should start learning about student organizations they might like whenever they arrive for orientation.
“We usually identify students in that point in time,” he said regarding Red Raider Orientation. “We identify the students that come in, then we try to identify the services that will best suit them.”
Even before enrollment, Gunn said new students are exposed to services and organizations during orientation that could lead them to a network of friends. He said Student Affairs focuses on getting students connected.
“We do push our rural students to actually go outside their comfort zone and to be more involved with things they haven’t really been exposed to,” he said, “and then maintain those traditional values they had growing up.”
College is a milestone in life Gunn said can be intimidating for rural students. He said if students from rural areas take the time to get involved and connect with new people, they can learn a lot about college and Tech in general.
“Interacting with people is a benefit to your college experience,” he said. “That’s what I want everyone to know when they come here.”